Bon jour! Here is this week's collection of writing prompts, a bit later than usual because I went out to breakfast at my favorite French cafe. And I bought macarons, which are calling to me from the kitchen (they can be a rowdy bunch), but they are for dessert at my sister's dinner tonight. Anyway, these bits are from my Tumblr blog, where I post a new prompt every damn day.
#302 Write about something that surprised you or your main character. It could be something small or huge.
#303 Ah, a holiday. All day to relax and do what she wanted. But, oh crap. Then this happened….
#304 “We’ll forget the sun, in his jealous sky, as we walk in fields of gold.” Write about what Sting was singing about.
#305 Use the word promise, bird, and thunderstorm in a sentence and then use the sentence as a prompt.
#306 He just could not make the decision. How do you–or your main character–make a decision? Do you use a logical process (if so, explain) or rely on intuition?
#307 Does your main character believe in angels? Spirit guides? Or for that matter, God? If so, how do these beliefs manifest in his life? If not, same question.
#308 You’re at your desk. It’s a beautiful summer morning. The window is open, and you hear birds singing and the soft summer air blows through. But then, ____________ happens. And things are never the same again.
As always, share inspiration from these prompts or your writing life in the comments!
Many, many, many, many, many, many (okay, I'll stop now), years ago in college, my favorite perfume was Je Reviens. This was a perfume that stopped men in their tracks, causing them to ask me why I smelled so good. I clearly recall one instance of this when I sat studying in the EMU Fishbowl.* A frat boy sitting two booths away yelled over to ask the name of the perfume that was distracting him. There was just something about this scent–and maybe the way it reacted to my skin–that enticed people, including me.
Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure my sister Alice, who was an airline stewardess for TWA back in the days when they were still called stewardesses and TWA still existed, must have brought me bottles of Je Reviens from Paris. I quit wearing perfume for a long time and forgot about Je Reviens. But flash forward a gazillion years, to last summer, when the hub and I were in Paris on our way home from Pezenas. I decided to try to find a bottle of Je Reviens to take home. The glitzy–and intimidating–perfume store on the Champs Elysees, which sells every perfume known to man, didn't have it. And the bored ladies who worked there hadn't heard of it. I asked everywhere I found a place they sold perfume–at a cute little store at the base of the Sacre-Coeur Cathedral in Montmarte, at a shop in Montparnasse, where we stayed. But nobody seemed to have heard of it. (I'm certain my terrible French pronunciation had nothing to do with it.)
Upon my return home, it finally occurred to me to ask my friend Angela about the perfume. She is a perfume writer, you see (as well as being a wonderful mystery writer). She immediately told me she had some vintage Je Reviens she'd found in an antique shop and she would decant some for me. (See photo.) She also explained that the perfume had gone through several incarnations recently and was still available, albeit in a watered-down, drugstore version. I carried my sample home with reverence and stuck it in my bathroom cabinet to use for special occasions.
I am wearing it today. I'm not going anywhere special–I'm not going anywhere at all. I sprayed it on to cheer myself up after the WORST allergy attack that anybody has endured, ever, happened to me yesterday. And it has done the job. It brought back all kinds of pleasant memories, as noted above, and it has also made me ponder the power of scent in writing.
Firstly, smells transport us to other times and places. A whiff of a hawthorne bush, and I'm a little kid again, at my Aunt Betty's house in Hillsborough, California. The smell of corndogs and I'm at the Rose Festival Fun Center carnival that assembles itself every year along the waterfront here in town. (They call it CityFair now to try to jazz it up.) The aroma of sage transports me to New Mexico. Inhaling Je Reviens brought back all the memories I wrote about above. And these are rich veins, people, rich veins. You could do worse than to line up some smells to use as prompts. Take a whiff and start writing.
And second, smells can be just as evocative in our writing. Adding aroma to your descriptions helps to bring it alive–and yet it is probably the least taken-advantage-of sense. In my just-submitted novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery, my agent challenged me to do a better job of evoking the smell of the protagonist's macaron shop. Erp. Here's what I came up with:
And there was no other word for the smell of it but heavenly—that faint whiff of sugar, like cotton candy at the fair, or an ice cream cone on a hot summer day, the aroma that called to mind the best day of your childhood, or maybe your whole life.
Not holding myself up as the paragon of descriptive writing here, but rather illustrating how I equated smell with emotion rather than try to evoke it exactly. Because, how do you describe smells, other than to use the noun of what they come from–rose, for instance, or grass? I think that's why writers shy away from using smell in their descriptions. But I urge you to try.
So, yeah, 700-some words later and I've written a blog post, all inspired by my perfume. The power of scent, indeed.
*The EMU at the University of Oregon was the scene of the famous food fight in the movie Animal House, and also one of my favorite scenes of all time, when John Belushi says, "I'm a zit." Just to balance the sweetness of this post, here's the clip:
So, last Friday, March 20 was Macaron Day worldwide.
What is Macaron Day? It was started by the venerable Parisian baker Pierre Herme (his name has an accent mark, but I can never figure out how to do those) in 2006, and the way it works is simple: you drop into a bakery, donate money to charity, et voila, you receive a macaron in return. This year was the first year that my fair city of Portland, Oregon, has participated in Macaron Day, and let me tell you it was a raging success!
But first, perhaps you are wondering why I am writing about macarons on my writing blog? Simple. My next novel, the one that is currently being readied for submission with my agent, is about macarons. Or more to the point, a macaron baker.
Here's a brief synopsis:
All Madeleine Miller wants is for her new Portland business, the Bonne Chance Bakery, to be a success. But things get off to a slow start when her husband Will runs off with an employee and starts his own rival bakery, leaving Mad in the lurch. Luckily she has the help of the bakery's accountant, Jack, and his precocious daughter Daisie. Portland foodies love the bakery's French macarons, but alas, their passion doesn't quite add up to financial success.
And then one day, world-famous entrepreneur slash actor Richard Bishop appears at the bakery and becomes smitten with Mad's macarons—and her. His offer to franchise the bakery concept feels like selling out, and Madeleine isn't interested. But then she learns of the shady financial dealings her ex-husband used to fund the bakery—and she's forced to accept his help. Soon she's catapulted into a world of luxury and excitement in Los Angeles as she supervises the opening of a second Bonne Chance in Hollywood.
But in her efforts to save the bakery, will she lose herself? Set in Portland, Los Angeles, and Paris, the novel illuminates the crazy path romance sometimes leads us on—and the circuitous route that will lead the way home. With its themes of identity, self-determination and following your dreams, The Bonne Chance Bakery is a feel-good novel with a serious message at its core.
(That description is taken straight from my query letter, by the way. The very same query letter that got me a read of the full manuscript and a signed contract within one week.)
So, as you can see, attending Macaron Day was a must. Luckily, my biz partner Debbie and I had scheduled a morning to do some planning on the workshop we held last weekend, and so we folded Macaron Day into it. Our first stop was Nuvrei bakery, where rumor had it that they were giving out "starter kits." And oh my God, what fabulous starter kits they were! The most adorable tote bags imprinted with pink macarons. I was so excited. I needed one of those tote bags. After all, I'd just finished a book about macarons!
We stood in line for probably ten minutes as person after person walked past us carrying the totes. Yes–there were long lines for macarons! The day for these luscious, pillowy pastel cookies has definitely come! I got more and more excited as we neared the front of the line. And then watched as the person in front of me got the last tote bag.
Wah wah wah.
Oh well. I recovered. A bite of a salted caramel macaron revived me. After we sat downstairs and did some planning, we drove across the river to Farina Bakery, which is very special to me. Laura Farina let me shadow her last year, back when she was still baking macarons in a commercial kitchen, so I could see how macarons are baked. Now she has her very own place, complete with apron murals. And she is pretty much acknowledged to be the premier macaron baker in town. (One headline announcing the opening of her bakery read, "Portland's macaron queen gets her own palace.")
There, at Laura's place, were more people standing in lines with their cute little macaron-imprinted tote bags. Only one sob escaped my lips as I gazed at the tote bags. Debbie and I nabbed a whole passel of macarons in a rainbow of colors for our workshop the next day. And I got to chat with Laura, who is probably the most cheerful, positive person I've ever met. (Must be the macarons.)
I was going to write about how I discovered macarons and how I got the idea for the novel in the first place, but I'm already pushing 800 words here so I think I'll save that for another post.
In the meantime, go get yourself a macaron (as they get more and more popular, they are more readily available. Or, you can always mail order some here.)
Clearly, I've been writing about macarons. What are you writing about? Leave a comment!
I've been pretty much missing in action, with the exception of a prompt round-up post or two, and one measly blog post, for the last couple of weeks. (And, now that I'm here, I've just had an idea for another post–which proves my oft-repeated point that writing breeds more writing. Alas, I don't have time to complete it at the moment. But it shall appear soon.)
But I'm nearing completion of my rewrite of the Bonne Chance Bakery, my next novel, so I thought I'd pop in. I'm learning all kinds of things as I rewrite this novel. And that is why I love writing so much, because there is always something new to learn.
Have I ever told you my favorite story about this? Well, if so, sorry, but you're going to hear it again.
I was at dinner with the parents of a friend of my daughter. They were lovely people, and both had retired from high-powered corporate jobs. Fly all over the world, big responsibility type jobs. The mom asked me what I did and at that time I was in the middle of earning my MFA, so I explained. And then this happened:
"And how long is the MFA program?" she asked.
"Oh." Startled look. "I would have thought you could learn everything about writing in six months."
Yes, she really said that, people. And for once in my life I had the perfect retort, which still pleases me to this day:
"Some people think it takes a lifetime to master the craft of writing."
So, anyway, I'm learning lots. Which is a wonderful thing that I'm sure I'll write blog posts about. But not yet. In the meantime, however, a few things I need to give you a heads up about:
I have another free book on Noise Trade! It's called, Set The Words Free, and it is all about smashing writer's block. It's available in all the usual formats, but since it is a workbook, I think downloading it in a PDF is the best, because then you can print it out. You can download it here.
Next week, my publisher is participating in the 4th Anniversary party of the Romance Reviews website, and on March 20, you can enter to win a copy of Emma Jean! I will remind you next week, as I should be back in action by then, since my rewrite deadline is this Friday, March 13. Urp. I better get back to it.
But before I do, one more thing to put on your calendar.
NEXT FRIDAY, MARCH 20, IS MACARON DAY!! (The subject of the Bonne Chance Bakery is macarons, or more to the point, a woman who bakes them.) In Paris, New York, Portland, and many other cities, you can go to participating bakeries, donate money to a charity (here it is the Meals on Wheels), and get free macarons!
That's all for now. What's going on with you? How is your writing?